Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chick-Chuck in the Morning

This morning I went early to check the chickens in the barn. I found Chick-Chuck perching on a roost just a foot away from Egglebert and a couple of the hens. She wasn't yet so bold as to lean into them for warmth, but it is clear she is finding her way into the flock.

We had one sad moment, when all the other hens were in one area of the pen scratching for corn and Chick-Chuck wandered to the other side. Suddenly she let out the baby peep alarm -- high pitched, long notes in a very loud voice as if saying "help me!" I peeped back in what I hoped were happy, reassuring tones and she came back to where the others were. Was she realizing her Mama is gone?

It's a lesson in the laws of nature. Sometimes vicious things happen, but we are made resilient.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tragedy is part of farm life

Something murdered Mama Hen.

When I got home from work today and called the chickens into the barn, only two of the four yellow hens came. As soon as I counted everyone else I went outside to check, because sometimes one will jump over the fence in pursuit of greener pastures.

I found the first hen huddling in a corner, clearly uneasy about whether it was safe to come out. It took a few minutes to encourage her into the barn. While I was at it I glimpsed a pile of yellow feathers on the other side of their fenced yard.

Upon investigation I found the corpse of Mama Hen. Something must have grabbed her through the fence and taken one big bite. Everything else was left. I imagine that she was protecting Chickie, putting herself between her baby and danger. What could I do but dig a hole, bury her with a prayer.

She was a good Mama Hen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What's on the horizon?

The recent fires in the west alerted the whole country to the risk of nature interrupting one's life.

Our spectacular sunset may well have been brought about by pollution in the air from Chicago, as some say, or all the way from California. What it reminded me of, however, was that it is practically November and we have not yet had a frost. By now I would anticipate Indian summer, that glorious post-frost period where we get to experience summer one last time. One last lawn mowing. One final trip to the pumpkin patch.

Indian summer signals the time to batten down the hatches, too. Once a frost kills off all the tender plants in the vegetable garden, it's time to put the beds to sleep, pull out or turn under the remaining vegetation, maybe plant a cover crop to protect the soil from those west winds. It's time to clean up the tools and put them away for the season, move the potted perennials to the barn, put away most of the lawn furniture.

Never put away all of the lawn furniture, however. You want something comfortable to sit on when one of those beautiful Indian summer afternoons comes along. Make some mulled apple cider, aromatic with cinnamon and cloves (add a touch of cranberry juice for beautiful color), grab a thick book and soak up the last of the late summer sunshine!

Sunday, October 21, 2007


This weekend temperatures hovered around 75 degrees. It was the third week of October and I have used the furnace for only about five evenings.

Something's gotta give.

The longer this pattern endures, the greater my concern for the winter. Our modest home stands surrounded by fields of crops. Here in the middle of the cornfields we have little protection from blowing snow and wind.

I know that we should be enjoying these late "summer" days in autumn -- not even Indian summer, as there has not been a frost. What kind of an ungrateful ox doesn't take an extra bike ride, or have lunch at the picnic table, or let the dogs stay outside all day long when it's 75 degrees in late October?

But here when we should be baking pumpkin pie and making curried butternut squash soup, a big salad remains the menu choice.

Something's gotta give.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


We spent the past weekend "up north", my college friends Amy and Tomison and I. Since the mid-'80s Tomison's family has generously shared their secluded house near Luther, Michigan with us so that we can enjoy the river, the roaring fireplace, and the autumn colors.

This year was pretty typical. Upon arrival one adds to the stack of magazines and books to be shared for the weekend. Then the coolers, bags and boxes of food to feed an army get unpacked and stored away in the three refrigerators and full pantry of shelves. How about a glass of wine? We have eight bottles for the three of us to share in just over 48 hours! (Well, on Friday evening is the annual cocktail party with our friend Marian, and god knows she can put it away!) The menus put Martha Stewart to shame. Nothing too precarious nutritionally, though, at least not this year.

The wildlife stayed away for some reason. In past years we have seen many deer, turkeys, pheasants and other forest animals, but the animal stars of this visit were the mewing kittens up at the keeper's house. "Great kittens!" I called to the lady of the house. "They're free!" she yelled back. No, there are no new residents at Busy Solitude Farm.

Each year, visiting at the NeBoShone inspires fantasies about escaping the world. Living a mile off the road, filling the pantry in the fall and disappearing through the winter to exist simply with pets and projects -- it's an enticing proposition. Somehow money always gets in the way. I bought us a MegaMillions ticket to share, figuring that 8 million would underwrite my escape. Sadly, we lost.

But you haven't lost too much when you've spent a weekend at the NeBoShone. The fresh pine air and brisk walks invigorate the body, a glass of wine near the crackling fire rekindles the spirit. And spending a couple of days with the best of friends, that's a win-win-win.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

From Beth's Lips to God's Ears

During the summer of 2006 I had a spectacular vegetable garden. Multiple varieties of tomatoes, cabbage, garlic, onions, potatos, plus cucumbers, strawberries, tomatillos, and many herbs.

Then the rains came. October of 2006 was one of the rainiest ever. My vegetable garden was under water for weeks. A nightmare. I had to wait until January to plant garlic for 2007.

And when it came time to plant the 2007 crops, I discovered that the standing water had filtered my soil so that I had a hard crust that was almost undiggable. Spring and summer are the busy season at work so I could not devote enough time to get through the crust, and I ended up with no garden this summer. It was devastating.

Over this past weekend my friend Beth, who is a subscription farmer, offered to till my plot. When we discussed it in detaill, however, she decided that it had to be opened up first since the tiller wouldn't get through that crust. "How can I do that?" I begged. Her suggestion was that I wait for a rainstorm, or run the sprinkler, and then work the moistened soil.

And so last night it rained. Beth's lips to God's ears. And this morning I got almost half of the garden opened up.

Things are looking up for the summer of 2008!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Patient as a Hen

Chick-Chuck welcomes Mama Hen back to their kennel-condo!

Animal behavior fascinates me -- observing these two proves the existence of maternal instinct again and again. Last night the Mama Hen wanted to roost on a 2x4, out of the kennel and up off the ground, like the other hens. Chick-Chuck, however, could not make it up three feet to roost, so they ended up sleeping in the kennel.

This morning before I went to work what did I see but Mama and Chick roosting proudly in another spot in the hen-pen. I guess Mama was not planning to sleep one more night in that kennel! Just now I went out to turn off their light and I got to see Chick-Chuck rise like a helicopter up to the bar. The sweetest part was that once it got next to Mama, all the crazy peeping stopped.

Everyone should have the patience of a Mama Hen when caring for loved ones!

[Addendum one hour later: I checked on the chickens and discovered Mama Hen and Chick-Chuck sleeping in the kennel. I guess baby just wasn't ready to sleep up high!]

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Open the Floodgate!

This weekend (Tuesday-Wednesday with my current schedule) I am planning to tile my bathroom floor and paint the window trim. The project requires me to temporarily take out the sink and vanity and a couple of days ago I discovered a possible problem with the shutoff valves under the sink. I may have fixed it, but I won’t know for sure until I actually proceed.

Last night I took down the blinds so that I could put a coat of Kilz on the window trim. Then I realized I would have to rig up some kind of temporary curtain if I wanted a shower in the morning.

I woke up this morning thinking I would really like to wash my hair. I walked into the bathroom with that on my mind (it was still dark) and heard this tremendous gushing. I stood there for a moment trying to get my bearings. The sound seemed to be coming from the closet area — the water main into the house is there under a trap door. I didn’t sense any water moving, but it sounded like a flood.

Just as I reached for the lightswitch I discovered the source. When I painted the window frame last night I scooted the cat litter box over by the closet to get it out of my way. Abe was having his morning relief! He must have had quite a bit to drink last night!

This is the culprit. Another crisis averted!